SAUDI MEN WHO GOT ON SCHOOL BUS HAVE CHARGES DROPPED-Andrew Stelzer

06/26/06

The State attorneys office has decided not to prosecute two local residents who boarded a school bus in May, without knowing that in the United States, it wasn’t customary for adults to do so, as it was in their native Saudi Arabia. The case generated an immense amount of media attention because the men were from the Middle East. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer has more.

ACT “We believed from the beginning that this was a huge misunderstanding and they had no ill intentions..

Ahmed Bedier is the director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, and the host of the WMNF program True Talk. He told a group of reporters gathered for a press conference at CAIR's temple terrace office that the actions of Shaker Alsidran and Mana Al Manajam were completely innocent.

ACT-Ahmed “In their native country, they are not familiar..�

The 2 students arrived in the US this past January, to study English at the university of South Florida. On May 19th they boarded a school bus heading to Wharton High School. The bus driver called police, who arrested the men when they got off the bus. They initially said they were from Morocco, a false answer they claim to often make because of a fear that Americans don’t like Saudis. Bedier said what they endured over the next 4 days was extremely traumatic, and was in no small part due to their skin color of home country.

ACT “By the end of the day they had been investigated, accused of making a dry run, and ended up in jail..they were in solitary…this incident exposed the climate of fear where people perceive them to be hostile, innocent activities are perceived as a threat..we have to be disciplined enough not to jump to conclusions and wait for the evidence..�

After consulting with the FBI and department of Homeland security, the Local state attorneys office concluded that indeed, the incident was a result of a misunderstanding. The two men will have to complete a pretrial intervention program for first time offenders, and the misdemeanor trespassing change will be dropped. Ashraf Salem was the attorney hired to take the case of the two men.

ACT-Ashraf “This was a big mistake, the mistake can be fixed..�

Alsidran and Al Manajam both speak very limited English; Alsidran told WMNF that they did not understand they were in trouble until they got to jail, and they did not understand why until 3 days later, when someone arrived who could speak Arabic and explain to them what was happening. Both men made brief statements to the press.

ACT-Shaker “I'm happy today that this problem is finished..no high school forever, HES NOT GOING TO GO TO HIGH SCHOOL FOREVER..�

ACT-Mana “I’m happy today, but no more trouble..�

Bedier called the decision to drop charges a success story, one which has become increasingly rare in a climate of fear of Muslim and Arab people in the US. WMNF spoke with Bedier about the parallel between the fear of Muslims contributing to the arrest of the two Tampa men, and the announcement last week of the arrest of 7 men in Miami, who were accused of plotting attacks on the sears tower in Chicago and numerous FBI buildings.

ACT-Ahmed “That’s the climate in Miami, the shock is that they are not even Muslim. you have to add that..thats not fair, were not gonna take the brunt….even today they are saying these are Islamic militants..�

The two local men are scheduled to sty in the US for a total of 5 years. Terms of the pretrial intervention program were not immediately available.

For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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